Metro Mix: Exploring the Parisian underground with Bassam
In collaboration with New Balance, we’re bringing you fresh sounds direct from Paris’ underground. Next up is Distrikt Paris head honcho Bassam
We’ve teamed up with New Balance to give you a taste of the Parisian underground, right from the fashion moguls who spin in their spare time to the DJs taking over warehouse parties at the weekend. And on March 1, we're popping over to the French capital for a dance…
Metro Mix is a new three-part series where we invite DJs from the French capital to show the world what this vibrant scene is all about. Next up: Bassam
One evening in 2011, Bassam (real name Bassam Idbaali) agreed to catch up with an old friend from high school. Having grown up in Casablanca, Morocco, but also spending time in Bordeaux and Nancy, he’d moved to Paris in 2011 for his studies and was still a fresh face in the French capital. He’d long been into music – a lover of hip hop and enjoyed going to clubs, but hadn’t yet found his own scene in the new city. Knowing this, his friend offered a proposition.
“I’ve discovered some hidden parties here in Paris,” he told Bassam. “You should come, we’ll have some fun until midday – I know you will like it.”
Struggling to find a reason to decline the offer, the pair hopped on the Northeast bound Paris Métro, to a now-defunct venue called La Villette Enchantée, where city stalwart Dan Ghenacia, now part of Apollonia, was throwing one of his legendary Freak n’ Chic parties with Chris Carrier also playing.
“It was really nice,” Bassam says. “I was amazed by the quality of the music, the vibe, everybody. And then we went for a secret afterparty where Daze Maxim was playing with some locals and I was like: ‘Okay, you were right my friend – let’s do this every weekend.’”
He soon found himself engrossed in Paris’ minimal scene, religiously pilgrimaging to every Ricardo Villalobos gig for Katapult and each occasion Zip’s Get Perlonized party touched down via the Charles de Gaulle airport. It was all part of long chain of events, parties and afterparties that would see him start up his own party-cum-label Distrikt Paris along with Escko in 2016, with the pair now joined by Blanco as well.
Now a regular fixture on Paris’ club circuit, Distrikt has long been one of the key players in pushing the subtler end of house and techno in the city – influenced by minimal but by no means defined by it. A shimmy to one of its parties could see anything from the likes of jacking electro, bright house music, heads-down breaks and space-age techno being spun, with the party becoming a central cog in the city underground’s diversification away from mid-to-late 2000s minimal.
To celebrate Distrikt’s lucky seven we also caught up to reflect on the journey so far and find out more about his upcoming full LP, while he was taking a rare holiday to his familial home in Morocco – calling in from a rural field as his young cousins sprinted around him. He also dropped over a glorious mix recorded live from a four-hour set alongside his Distrikt siblings Escko and Blanco, exploring the sounds of the Paris subterranean.
What was Paris’ underground scene like when you first started getting involved in it?
Every weekend when we went out, we’d see the same faces, so I quickly became friends with people that are doing big things [now in the music industry]. Like Jon Sebaoun from CrazyJack, N.O.X who is now playing his part in S.A.S.H. Sundays in Australia, the guys from [now-sadly closed club] Concrete, Le Loup – these people were already in the scene doing some good things. There was the first big event, Twisted, [a precursor to] Concrete and it was the big rendezvous on Sundays – and there all this underground international music like Rush Hour and Get Perlonized that went to London and Berlin – we had it in Paris. And it was all thanks to the Internet, and Concrete and their stellar line-ups. I had a real stellar musical education on that dancefloor.
We were becoming minimal heads, but we’d have to wait two or three months for a showcase, so in the time between we’d travel to places like Robert Johnson and Sunwaves. Sunwaves is where I met the girls from RA+RE (Ethel, Melody, ABI, Rohmi etc.), and in Paris the guys from Automatic Writing, Rakya and so on – then we all started doing our own things and pushing the boundaries. Like Rakya started doing events, RA+RE started to do Breakfast Club and we started Distrikt. We’re all still friends even though we do the same music, we are not competing – we all have a lot of respect for each other and support each other.
You were doing underground and warehouse parties for a while right? How did you start?
The first Distrikt was on the New Year’s Eve of 2016, so December 31, 2015. It was sold out, 800 people and it was a real success, so we decided to do it every two months. We had a special venue [at the start] in a warehouse that doesn’t exist any more, like the kind of venue you’d find in Hackney Wick in London. At the time the warehouse scene was blooming – particularly with techno, but we were the only ones doing minimal-related events.
What was the most memorable space you ever threw a Distrikt party in?
There was one where we had one hell of a warehouse. We did a rave with CrazyJack and Anstramgram so there were three of us [promoters], and we threw a 2,000 people rave – I still have goosebumps thinking about it. It was a warehouse used for the wheel industry, and we had the same soundsystem as in DC-10 [Ibiza]. That was one of the best Distrikt productions we did.
Now you do parties in clubs mainly right?
We did warehouse parties for three years, it was intense but it gave us the chance to be known as a music brand and clubs started wanting to work with us. When we started we wanted to do club events but they never wanted to do parties with us. We sent emails, press kits – no response, but after they saw we could sell out 1,000 people events in warehouses we started working with venues in Paris – Rex Club, Concrete, Badaboum, we’ve done parties in all of them. We also had some really nice parties in Cabaret Sauvage, we did the first electronic events there after it closed for two years to upgrade its soundsystem and acoustics. I still remember thinking: “Wow, having this sound quality sound in Paris – it’s really amazing.”
How were the seventh birthday celebrations?
It was really nice, we did two parties. The first was in Nexus with a stellar line-up – some diggers and an amazing live set from Levat, it was the first time in Distrikt’s history where I was dancing for the whole of an artist’s set. And then the second part was with Laurine and Cecilio and it was a real party. Sold out, lot of hands up in the air and I played with Antoine Sy as Antam – it was a big success. We were really happy especially because after COVID, we had a lot of hesitation about continuing, but now we know we’re going to do it again for sure – we’ll have another birthday.
How did the idea of turning the party into a label come about?
Escko and I had the idea of doing a label since the beginning, but the problem was that my music wasn’t mature enough to have a proper vision for a label. I started Antam with Antoine first because we had a mutual vision. And I learnt how to do a label – distribution and production stuff and in the end we decided to do a diverse label with Distrikt of all the music we like. The first opportunity came with Kosh, because he’s one of my best friends, and we worked together on the first EP for something like six months and that was the Virtual Reality EP. Since then we’ve done three releases and the fourth is coming from (UK techno originator) Hi-Ryze and the one after is going to be my album.
Tell me a bit about your album.
It’s 10 tracks and will be a full double LP available on vinyl and digitally. I’m still working on the artwork, but I already have the masters. The album name is ‘Clockwise Rhapsody’ – rhapsody exactly defines my approach to music: spontaneous, different colours, different moods and shades of emotions. And clockwise because it moves forwards with time. It’s a selection of every style and genre that I dig as a DJ but also what I try to make as a producer. There’s downtempo, house, minimal, techy stuff, electro, breakbeat, some electro-disco – it’s not just 10 bombs, there’s a bit of everything.
What do you love about the Paris scene?
The intensity. There’s a lot of things happening every fucking time, and that’s something I really like because I’m quite hyperactive. People are always pushing boundaries because they know they have everything, so they are never okay. But also the diversity, like the London scene Paris is very diverse – you can find every genre, people, cultures and social [classes] altogether and there’s this real value of underground music in the city.
Would Distrikt be Distrikt in any other city?
It’s the name itself – it’s Distrikt Paris. Without Paris there would be no Distrikt. It’s the mother that gave us birth and education. At some point now we are adult enough to spread the love outside of Paris, but it will always be the mum.